© Copyright 2018 by Kathryn Lynch
The sun was high in the sky and the tide was low as the Old Lady made her way slowly down the beach. The plastic bag she carried was dragging now on the sand, marking a trail to indicate her path.
As she walked, she studied the washed up debris, searching for the pieces of driftwood which might later become part of her sculptures. From time to time, she dug up a twisted twig or a flattened board from its sandy grave. Many of her driftwood pieces were unadorned. Some were decorated with sand-dremeled items that washed ashore along with the wood.
Usually she shared the sand. On good weather days, half naked beer drinkers hung around huge campfires, talking too loudly, filling the breezes with grass smoke, laughter and expletives. Joggers whizzed by, oblivious to the natural beauty, eyes zeroed in on the path ahead, ears plugged with electronics. A variety of overly enthusiastic dogs barked and snapped at incoming waves in an attempt to subdue them.
she rested on an ancient beached log, the Old Lady spotted a brown
object sticking out of the sand. What at first appeared to be a
unique piece of wood turned out, on closer inspection, to be a weather
beaten, sand blasted shoe which she placed in her bag.
When she got home, it was the Old Lady's routine to shake out and brush off each item collected, so that she would not drag unwelcomed sand or insects inside her trailer. It was bad enough that she had to make and sell these sculptures for a few dollars to supplement her Social Security check, without adding more housecleaning duties to the mix.
Something fell out of the shoe and disappeared under the steps. She shook again and two more objects clattered onto the porch. At first glance they appeared to be old bottle caps buffeted by he sea until they were unrecognizable. However, while one side bore a family crest, the other side exhibited a large cross, unlikely types of symbols for commercial bottlers.
No. They were coins, dirty, old, relics of times past. They had traveled in the prevailing ocean currents from an undetermined place and time, only to end their journey stuck in an abandoned shoe. The Old Lady was determined to find out what she could about them, without anyone knowing that she had them in her possession.
regarded the internet as an awesome public library literally at her
feet. Now she googled “coins with cross symbols”, and
after studying thirty or forty pictures, she realized that the coins
were Spanish doubloons, probably minted from 1750 to 1850 in Spain,
Mexico, or Peru. Sailing ships carried large numbers of these coins
to facilitate trade between North and South America and the countries
in Europe. Pirates often boarded, raided, and sank these vessels
which slipped under the water, taking their remaining coins with them
to a watery grave. Today, some doubloons in good condition were
valued at $4,000.00 each!
The Old Lady was aware that when treasure hunters found a shipwreck, the spoils often became the subject of litigation with shipping companies, insurance companies, passenger heirs, local governments, and even foreign countries making claims of ownership. These lawsuits were prohibitively expensive and went on for years. Sometimes the “Finder” died before a Court settled these disputes, depriving him of any positive results from his hard work.
If there were more doubloons buried where the shoe had been, they would have to be located and removed fairly quickly at a time when the tide was low, and the beach was likely to be deserted. She knew that she would have only one chance at recovery and that no one must know what she was doing.
Now the Old Lady rounded up the metal detector from her storage building. She bought fisherman's rain gear, consulted her tide tables, and waited for good 'hunting weather.”
On the fourth afternoon, ocean breezes began to swirl, sending cold air swooping down to envelope the beach. The skies darkened as pelting, persistent drizzle assaulted the sand, pockmarking its velvet surface. Beer drinkers sought shelter in overcrowded, smokey back rooms. Gyms filled with joggers using treadmills. Even the dogs opted for an afternoon nap.
Biting cold penetrated the Old Lady's rain gear as she pulled the wagon toward the ancient log. She began to shiver, her resolve against the elements weakening as wind driven sand swirled about her, a million small grains rubbing up against her face, filling her mouth and nose, diving into the corners of her eyes.
A few steps from the log, she began to sweep the surface using the detector, confident that she stood in the area where the shoe had first been spotted. For what seemed to be an eternity, the detector found nothing but the driving rain...
When the buzzer finally sounded, the Old Lady was startled but not unprepared. Digging with a clam shovel she had stored in the wagon, she was soon rewarded. Three more coins now rested in the bottom of the bucket she had brought for that purpose.
Search, buzz, and dig... The routine continued for almost two hours, requiring all of the stamina and concentration that she could muster. This was her one chance to find the bulk of the coins but her shivering arms were weakening and the sounds of her rattling teeth seemed louder than the waves crashing onto the beach. She could feel hypothermia crawling into her core.
The bucket was two-thirds full when she turned to make her way back to the warmth and safety of her old car. She never noticed that a man in a green pickup parked nearby had been watching her the entire time...
The man was a newspaper reporter who ate his lunch every day, rain or shine, at the beach. On good weather days he sat on a bench listening to the sea birds and allowing the smells to assail his nostrils. When the weather was bad, he watched the ocean throw tantrums from the safety of his truck.
He had never before seen anyone digging for clams in the middle of a storm, let alone a somewhat feeble old woman. She kept at it, and once or twice he was tempted to leave his vehicle to approach her with an offer of help. He decided to stay warm, only to be plagued with regrets later, that he had missed this opportunity to participate in what would become a famous local event.
When an out of town visitor found a doubloon on the beach the following week, the reporter made the connection and wrote a front page story about the senior citizen who had located and dug up an ancient treasure.
For the next few weeks, the beach was a frenzy of activity at low tide. Hundreds converged on the area digging with every imaginable tool. High tide repaired the damage, but the digging began anew as the waves receded once again. Most went home unrewarded, A few enjoyed a delicious clam dinner as a result of their efforts.
The beer drinkers cursed aloud when they realized that they had probably been relieving themselves atop a hidden treasure. They dug up their salt water latrine with beer cans, surrounded by onlookers who watched this macabre exercise with some amusement. From time to time loud cheers accompanied by closed fists went up into the air, only to be followed by a string of obscenities when the “find” turned out to be an old beer bottle cap.
In the end, only two more doubloons were ever found. The story became a legend when park rangers marked the place with a plaque detailing the story of the old woman's lucrative find.
The Old Lady brushed the sand from each coin, at all times careful not to scratch the surfaces before wrapping it in an individual cloth. Next, she wrapped each cloth in plastic wrap. Now she had 83 small packages which she placed in a larger bag.
She selected a piece of driftwood resembling the prow and foredeck of a ship. A second piece with the appearance of a mast was attached. Finally, she added the crusty old shoe. She named her creation by placing a small handprinted sign at its base. The Old Lady mailed the coin bag and sculpture at the US packaging store, addressed to herself at a hotel in New York City, labeling the contents “artwork”.
Two hours after she arrived at her destination, the package was delivered to the front desk, undamaged and intact.
The entire collection of doubloons was purchased by a rare coin collector for $250,000.00.
The sculpture was consigned to a high end art dealer who found a buyer out of the country willing to pay $53,000.00. “Home from the Sea” established her reputation worldwide as a driftwood artist, creating a heavy demand for new pieces which she sent to the dealer once a month. They always sold at exhorbitant prices.
Epilogue: The Old Lady parked in the spot used by the reporter long ago. She read the plaque which had propelled her story into an “Old Sea Tale,” one to be enjoyed, but not necessarily believed. History buffs mused that if it were true, the old girl would now be rich and famous.
“I couldn't agree more”, she thought to herself, as she turned her Aston-Martin southward toward the gated community where her Summer residence was located.